Get your kicks … on Highway 61
By Derrick Knutson
Highway 61 might not be as well known as Route 66, but some Chisago County residents are hoping an assortment of new signs and an effort to recognize the historic significance of the north/south route might drum up some exposure for the highway.
Professed local history aficionados and Rush City residents Tim and Pam Hagan said they want to bring some traffic off I-35 and back onto the highway to benefit local businesses and communities.
They explained the highway, which is US-61 from New Orleans to Wyoming, Minn., used to retain the “61” moniker all the way up to the Canadian border, but has been relabeled as County Road 30 and Minnesota Highway 361 through Chisago County up to Pine City, where it switches back to Highway 61.
Pam said even in the areas where the historic route is known as Highway 61, it doesn’t get as much exposure as it used to before I-35 was built.
“It’s the main linkage to the most beautiful viewing areas in the state,” she said.
In order to draw more vehicles to the route, Pam and her husband decided an array of “Old Highway 61” signs might be just the thing to get speeding motorists off the freeway and onto the highway.
The two approached their county commissioner, Mike Robinson, to see if he could help with the idea.
“I talked to Tim and he asked me if there was something I could do, and there was something I could do,” Robinson said.
Robinson contacted the county’s housing and redevelopment authority to see if any funds were available for the signs.
As it turns out, there was some money in the coffer to pay for about 40 signs at about $50 apiece.
The Hagans, Robinson and other county officials are excited about the possibility of the signs hopefully drawing some traffic into cities along Highway 61 that are in need of an economic boost.
“There’s just an effort to recognize this old route and make it part of our day-to-day lives,” Chisago County Administrator Bruce Messelt said.
Messelt mentioned at some point the county might start a marketing campaign to accompany the signs.
“There’s some advertising potential with the historic nature of the roadway,” he said.
He noted Minnesota native folk rocker Bob Dylan even paid homage to the highway by naming his 1965 album “Highway 61 Revisited.”
The route has become famous enough to garner some nicknames over the decades, such as “The Great River Road” due to its proximity of the Mississippi River, and “The Blues Highway” because of its connection to the blues music hotbed of New Orleans.
Chisago County HRA/EDA director Chris Eng said he’s planning on contacting other counties along the route to see if they’ll hop on board and purchase some of the signs to mark the route.
“It’s one of the most scenic highways in the nation and one of the most historic as well,” he said. “We’re hoping to bring back the nostalgia and make it our own Route 66.”